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M-Squared shortlisted for MacRobert Award

10 Jun 2019

UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering includes the Glasgow laser firm as one of four finalists competing for its innovation prize.

M-Squared Lasers, the Glasgow-headquartered manufacturer of ultrafast lasers and quantum technologies, has been shortlisted for one of the most prestigious engineering awards in the UK.

The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) has included the photonics company as one of four finalists for its 2019 MacRobert Award. This year the prize for engineering innovation is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

According to the RAE, each of the finalists demonstrate the “ingenuity of engineers who make the impossible possible, bringing products to market that will make a significant impact on people’s lives and on the world in which we live”.

SolsTiS laser
M-Squared is probably best known for its compact and high-performance turn-key Ti:sapphire lasers and has become increasingly involved in quantum technology development as the field has advanced in recent years.

Its “SolsTiS” laser is the particular focus for this year's MacRobert Award. The tunable source, now used by more than 200 different organizations across 30 countries, has played a key role in a variety of applications – a high-profile one being calibration of the Tropomi imaging spectrometer on board the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 5P satellite.

Part of the “Copernicus” Earth observation constellation, and launched in October 2017, the instrument observes sunlight that is scattered back to space by Earth’s surface and atmosphere, detecting the unique fingerprints of gases in different parts of the spectrum.

Claimed to be the most advanced multispectral imaging spectrometer ever launched, Tropomi operates across the ultraviolet, visible, and short-wave infrared (SWIR) bands, and is able to identify and measure concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide, methane, and carbon monoxide from orbit.

Just last week, the satellite measured sulphur dioxide in the plume spewing from the Fuego volcano in Guatemala.

Other applications of SolsTiS include non-invasive study of cancers and degenerative diseases including dementia, motor neurone disease and Parkinson's, while the laser sources are used widely in laboratories working on quantum technology.

Customers include the National Institute for Standards and Technology, where SolsTiS is being used to develop ultra-precision atomic clocks.

£50,000 cash prize
M-Squared's nominated team comprises co-founders Graeme Malcolm and Gareth Maker - now the CEO and CTO of M-Squared respectively - and senior engineer Simon Munro.

They are up against fellow finalists from the major aviation company Bombardier, the cybersecurity firm Darktrace, and biotechnology startup OrganOx. The winners are set to be announced on July 11, at the RAE’s annual awards dinner.

The winning team will receive the signature MacRobert Award gold medal and a £50,000 cash prize.

MacRobert Award judge Gordon Masterton, a professor of engineering at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“M-Squared has developed photonic and quantum technologies that enable new applications and industries - addressing some of society’s greatest challenges.

“It is a superb example of a startup company built on engineering ingenuity and skills of the highest levels. Its growth is making a positive difference to the new knowledge-based economy that is so important to the West of Scotland’s transformation from its heavy industrial past.”

Past winners of the award include the photonics company Cobalt Light Systems, while high-end detector firm Andor Technology was short-listed in 2012.

A spin-out from the Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory, Cobalt won the 2014 MacRobert Award for its development of airport security scanners based on Raman spectroscopy for liquid analysis. The company was subsequently acquired by analytical equipment giant Agilent for £40 million.

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